I've been tremendously privileged to have had the opportunity to work with so many remarkable leaders during the course of my career.
These are individuals who are endowed with a seemingly magical ability to inspire and motivate others. In reflecting back on my interactions with these exceptional individuals over the years, I've observed they share several attributes that set them apart, especially from those who are in comparable positions of authority.
Here's what I've noticed about the exceptional leaders I've known:
1. They trust you to do the job you've been hired to do.
Leaders are, by definition, leaders. They give direction and provide support and then get out of your way and let you do the job they hired you to do.
2. They seek your advice and input.
Exceptional leaders know they rely on the experience and insight that only you can offer. That's why they seek your advice and input. They may not always agree with you, but they ask what you think, and consider it as an important piece of input into their decision-making process.
3. They find opportunities to let you shine.
Leaders, by the very nature of their role, absorb a tremendous quantity of attention. But they also proactively find opportunities to let you step up and gain visibility.
4. They recognize your contributions.
Leaders usually have a wide span of authority, encompassing dozens or even hundreds of direct reports. Yet the exceptional ones take the time to recognize your contributions through informal channels like coffee chats and, especially, through formal channels such as performance evaluations.
5. They have your back during tough times.
Exceptional leaders are the ones who stand up for you and support you when you're experiencing your most challenging moments.
6. They are master storytellers.
I have yet to know an exceptional leader who isn't also an exceptional storyteller. The ability to convey ideas and facts in a way that makes sense and which inspires others is a gift all exceptional leaders share.
7. They challenge you to do bigger and better things.
Leaders are leaders because they lead, and that means pushing themselves to take risks and do things they may have never done before. But they also encourage you to take on bigger challenges that expand your skills and give you a platform to have impact beyond the predefined scope of your role.
8. They express appreciation.
Exceptional leaders say "Thank you," and they say it publicly, and they say it often.
9. They are responsive.
Exceptional leaders respond to calls, emails, and other forms of outreach in a timely way. If not immediately, they usually abide by a set period of time within which they respond, whether it's 24, 48, or 72 hours. But they do respond.
10. They know when to apologize.
Exceptional leaders know when to apologize, even for seemingly small things like showing up five or ten minutes late for a meeting. And they are not afraid to own up to their mistakes.
11. They give credit where credit is due.
One of the worst things a leader can do is to take credit for work you've done, or acknowledge someone else. Exceptional leaders let others know -- publicly -- the extent of your contributions and impact.
12. They treat others with dignity and respect.
Exceptional leaders treat you as you deserve to be treated: With dignity and respect. They don't strike you down with belittling comments, and never intentionally try to place you in an embarrassing or demeaning position in front of others, whether colleagues or clients.
13. They care.
The exceptional leaders I've known are the ones who show a genuine interest in and concern for others. They ask you, "How are you?" or "How's your family?" And then they listen, and express genuine concern.